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Interview: Why Nissan Maximized the 2016 Maxima's Sheetmetal

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 4/4/2015 motortrendauthor
Interview: Why Nissan Maximized the 2016 Maxima's Sheetmetal 2016-Nissan-Maxima-front-three-quarter-012© Provided by MotorTrend 2016-Nissan-Maxima-front-three-quarter-012

The automaker behind the asymmetrical Cube plus everyone's favorite love-to-hate vehicle, the Murano CrossCabriolet, is back with another dose of "Hey, look at that!" The new 2016 Nissan Maxima is purposefully bold, a sporty player in a loosely defined segment of non-luxury front- and rear-drive sedans starting just over $30,000. We spoke with Pierre Loing, Nissan North America's vice president of product planning, at the 2015 New York auto show, where we got a better idea of why the Maxima design ended up the way it did, and how the nameplate differs from the brand's mainstream midsize player, the Altima."The design was very protected right from the beginning," says Loing, who joined Nissan's North American division in 2012 not long after the Maxima design process began.The three 2016 Nissan Maximas on the New York auto show floor share a design that's "very close" to a quarter-scale model that was part of the early design process, which involves a team choosing among six or seven different design themes in the form of quarter-scale models. Loing suggests the Maxima's design is relatively pure but that typically, "in the design process, you say, 'I'd like the front of this one and the rear of this one.' "Loing, who says he sees a little Audi or Jaguar in the 2016 Maxima's design (we don't see it), notes that the segment is more driven by emotion than others, where basic considerations such as cost of entry can be a bigger determining buying factor. So although the Altima is due for a mid-cycle refresh, the design of that far higher-volume four-door may not go quite as far as the Maxima, with its swoopy character line running up the side of the car and that unique C-pillar. We'd at least expect a version of the Maxima's V-motion grille to show up on the 2016 Altima, as well as other potential updates including available active safety tech.More so than the Altima, Maxima owners tend to be male (about two-thirds of buyers, Loing says), in their late 40s, and with kids who have already left the house. The Maxima has survived to an eighth generation thanks in part to the strength of the nameplate, which Loing says is one of the strongest in the lineup."It's also a very profitable vehicle for us," Loing says, "We wouldn't do it otherwise."The new Murano, which carries a starting price about even with the three-row Pathfinder, has a similar story."When you're non-lux, and you're fortunate enough to have those vehicles which will have cross-shopping with lux, then you absolutely need to cherish them as much as you can because it's so easy to let that go," Loing says about the Murano and Maxima, a sedan he estimates gets cross-shopped about 10-15 percent of the time against the BMW 3 Series and Acuras. Bold designs could be just enough to get a couple lower-trim luxury-brand intenders to add a Maxima or Murano to a shopping list.In a 2013 comparison among the last-generation Nissan Maxima, Hyundai Azera, and Toyota Avalon, the Nissan placed third thanks to its relatively cramped interior and a feeling that it was "slightly antiquated," but it wasn't all bad news:"In this instance, its continuously variable transmission is very impressive (damn the naysayers!), offering quick, no-waiting-for-a-downshift response without ever going over the deep end into dreaded motor-boatiness," we wrote. "Pressed hard, it pleasantly pitches and rolls. And while bumps do noticeably unnerve it, the Maxima is also curiously fun to corner."The new Maxima is likely destined for a big sales year, after it starts rolling into dealerships in June. In the years to come, though, if the newness of the design starts to be overshadowed by updated competitors or doesn't age well, we'll see how well the Maxima's more modern interior and available upscale features will keep it going in a segment Loing describes as "volatile" but still worth the automaker's time.Read the full 2016 Nissan Maxima First Look HERE and then tell us: What do you think of the new Maxima's design?

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